A couple of legendary manga characters made their first appearance this week, starting with Rin’s Kindergarten classmate Kouki (Sakai Noa). As with all the child roles in this show, he’s played by a real kid – and boy, does that make a difference in realism. Kouki is a bit of a misunderstood child, seemingly – a bratty exterior (he tells Rin his mother is “noisy like an old woman!”) and having trouble making friends at school. Rin, fortunately, has a proclivity for taking care of younger kids and kids simply less mature than she is, and since Kouki has apparently taken a shine to her they make a natural fit. Looks like they’ll be attending first-grade at the same elementary school too, as Daikichi and Kouki’s Mom attend the indoctrination together.
That bit of news is a break for Daikichi, as Kouki’s Mom (Ohara Sayaka) is lovely, friendly and divorced. She makes an interesting and rather obvious potential love interest for Daikichi, as they have some very obvious common interests, a reason to see each other often (they’re generally the last two parents to arrive at night) and he seems to have no other avenues for potential mates, given that he goes straight from work to Rin’s school every night. But then, we also have Gotou-san (Kano Yui) – Daikichi’s co-worker who we met last week. Their common interests are just as obvious, and there’s a genuine spark of friendship between them at Daikichi’s department farewell party (which he attends only because Gotou said she would, and both should bring their kids). Her son Yuu is a year or two younger than Rin, giving Rin yet another opportunity to slip into the big sister role.
The fly in the ointment here is Masako, Rin’s mother. As Daikichi wades through the steep learning curve of backpacks, desks and vaccinations he slowly learns more of Masako. I’m still not convinced Grandpa is actually Rin’s father and not just a nice old man who agreed to look after Rin when Masako bailed. We still don’t know all the reasons, but thanks to Grandpa leaving a secret message for Rin’s future guardian – first via a hilariously abortive attempt at a blog and later through a sheet of paper hidden in Rin’s health record book. We know she thought herself a bad mother, and according to Grandpa she had “a mother’s love” for Rin. Daikichi wants to hate her for walking out on her daughter, but his innate decency foils him here. Not only does he feel the need to try and understand her reasons, he doesn’t feel right about making the decision to lock her out of Rin’s life unless that’s what she wants. Masako doesn’t appear this week, but Daikichi finally musters the courage to call her and her voice is heard in the person of the great Sakamoto Maaya – and that’s enough to convince me she’ll be a nuanced and somewhat sympathetic character.
It’s looking more and more like this short adaptation will focus exclusively on the first “half” of the manga, before the time-skip that takes Rin into high school. I haven’t read the manga but that seems like a solid decision. The format is so limiting, for starters, but above and beyond that it feels as if there’s so much drama and emotion built into this scenario that the surface will barely be scratched in eleven episodes. Every week Daikichi wrestles with some new aspect of his life that’s a mystery – be it indoctrination histories and (even more ominously) Rin’s desire to wear makeup. As Haruko points out there’s a certain natural familiarity between a mother and daughter (or father and son) that doesn’t exist for him, even were he not just a cousin (maybe) who’s only known Rin for three months. Seems to me that he can be of help to Kouki’s Mom, and she to him, in this area – and he has Gotou and Haruka to help as well. Not to mention that his mother has completely drunk the Kool-aid by now, referring to Rin as her “precious child” and lashing out at Masako.
If the test of success for a series is whether it leaves you wanting more when it ends – and I can think of far worse tests – than Usagi Drop is an unqualified success for me. I like these characters and I’m always sorry to hear that ED song start up (though I love the song). I’ve liked every character introduced so far and want to learn more about them, and from what I hear – and this ep did nothing to contradict it – Kouki and his Mum are going to be fantastic additions to the cast.